“Put On Your Grown-up Clothes” — Throwback Thursday Books (Ephesians 4:17-5:1)

“Put on your big boy/girl pants”—it’s mildly insulting way of saying that, up till now, you’ve been acting like a child who hasn’t been potty-trained yet. It’s too bad training pants and “pull-ups” weren’t around in Paul’s time. He probably would have used this expression in his letter to the Ephesians.

It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes. That’s the theme of this section of the letter.

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Some people go off to college to find themselves. I went off to college to lose myself and find someone new. I became a dedicated, disciplined and doctrinaire atheist. I thought I was original and intelligent.

A year later my life was a mess. I was kidding myself. I wasn’t original and intelligent. I was lazy and willful and selfish. As an atheist, I didn’t need to get up on Sundays for church. I didn’t need any particular standards. I didn’t respect any interests but mine. Not the best philosophical arguments.

Paul takes us back for a moment to chapter one of Ephesians. Remember our discussion of centripetal force—the force that pulls an object toward the center? Paul reconnects us to that image. If God is not pulling us together in Jesus, we are always in danger of flying apart. That’s true for us as individuals and as a church.

Get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes.

Perhaps others did the atheism thing better than I. Without a center, my life flew apart. Without a direction every road looked the same. Without a purpose, breakfast and suicide were equivalent options. Worst of all I left a trail of broken relationships and hurtful choices in my wake.

About this time, I first read a line from Fyodor Dostoyevsky. “Without God,” he wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “all things are permitted.” There it was—my life in a hundred year old Russian novel. So much for being original!  If all things are permitted then nothing really matters. So much for being intelligent!

Ephesians four rings some sad and painful bells for me. “[Y]ou must no longer live,” Paul writes, “as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” The Greek word here means “pointless emptiness.” In my experience, this pointlessness was not like a sort of virus of the spirit. Instead, it was the result of a series of conscious choices—large and small—that resulted in a bitter, mean and unforgiving way of life.

The words Paul uses here fall like hammer blows. Darkened understanding, estranged from the life God gives, ignorant, hard-hearted, callous—these are not people you’d want for your in-laws. They handed themselves over to debauchery for the express purpose of practicing to the full every sort of impurity. I wish this was hyperbole on Paul’s part. In my experience, it is not.

In another year I returned to Jesus and the Church. And I realized that things had to change. It was time to put my “grown-up clothes” on. I resisted that for a while. I thought this meant I was sentenced to a dull, boring, narrow life as the price of sanity. But nothing is further from the truth.

Get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes.

“Becoming mature,” writes Eugene Petersen, “means refusing to live a reduced life, refusing a minimalist spirituality.” We are made in God’s image. We are called to cultivate God’s garden in kindness. We are not animals. But sin, death and evil make us less than human. Faith, hope and love make us more fully human. That’s what Paul means by maturity in Christ.

Paul urges us to take off the “clothes” that no longer fit and put on our grown up clothes. Put on what it means to be truly human, to engage in authentic flourishing. We are called and equipped to put on the new humanity. We are called and equipped to be what God has intended us to be.

Get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes.

This section begins with Paul’s urging–that we would lead lives worthy of the calling to which we are called. We are called to be the fully human image bearers that God intends us to be. We know what that looks like because Paul has already told us. We know from chapter two that God intends us to be God’s works of art, doing good works which God has intended to be our way of life.

Our culture practices and promotes many things that make us subhuman. Hatred, violence, greed, lust, lying–all these things make us less human, not more. Paul urges the things that make us truly human. Paul urges the things that make for authentic human flourishing. Paul describes the contrast in verses twenty five and following.

It’s clear that verses twenty-five through thirty-two are directed to life in the community of the church. Paul reminds his readers that they are “members of one another.” Our speech is to be for “building up”—a word connected to the temple imagery in chapter two and to the body imagery in verse sixteen of this chapter. This address to conduct within the church community then continues into chapter five.

Get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes.

Grown up humans put on faith, hope and love. That’s just the opposite of what the world tells us. The world says that real grown-ups are hard and cyncial, ruthless and weary of the world. The world says that real grown-ups are selfish and violent because that’s how the world works.

I hope that you hear echoes of our baptismal liturgy in Paul’s words here. When we baptize someone, we anoint that person with a bit of oil. Then we say, “Child of God, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit…” That seal marks you out for a particular destination and destiny. The destination is life now and forever in Jesus the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the destiny is love–for God, for neighbor, for Creation and for ourselves.

Get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes. Next week we’ll hear more about our wardrobe. Let’s pray…

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